I wrote this while attending a writing class in 1998. In the 20 years since I first wrote this, a lot has changed. I haven’t seen my older two kids in years, by their choice. My youngest daughter got married, her and her wife live a good life with their fur babies.
I was hurt on the job 7 years ago, and now am wondering what I am going to do for the rest of my life, as I have to change careers at 60.
The headstone picture is my great-grandmother. I visited her resting spot this past summer in Newburgh New York. She came a long way. She was born in a village just outside Budapest, Hungary. My great-grandfather, was born in Transylvania, How sad their tale is. They somehow met, fall in love, have two children, he comes to America to get established, he goes back to Hungary, come over to America, have two more children and now they are buried a town apart. Whatever happens when we leave this Earth, wherever we go, my is hope they are reunited.
So here is my own essay, on its 20th birthday:
I made my usual visit to my parents on Thanksgiving. It was a cold and rainy day when I walked down the hill for my meeting. Today, I could combine my yearly Thanksgiving talks. This was the first Thanksgiving in twenty-two years that my parents were together. The happy turkey dinners of my youth were now replaced by a chilling, wet, solitary visit to a lonely headstone.
I knelt down by the cold, impersonal grave site and I was lost in the past, memories of family visits to my grandparent’s house, uncles and aunts and cousins brimming from every corner of the house. Gone was the warm, festive kitchen complete with a turkey and all of its trimmings. I felt so detached. I don’t even eat turkey anymore. Now all that was left of those blissful days was a cold, gray, moss covered rock with my parent’s names and the dates of their birth and death.
No one ever quite gets over losing a loved one. The circled or checked dates on a calendar that used to remind us of the joyous celebrations of birthdays, now go by almost unnoticed. A quick glance as we pass by a calendar with an empty date sadly reminds us of our loss, no more ripping open packages and blowing out birthday candles, it’s just a ordinary day like hundreds of others now.
During my brief visit, occasionally a car would splash by on the road above, pulling me back into the present, a time of wives, children, mortgages, alimony, careers and lost dreams. For now, I wanted the past. The past seemed so contrasted from the present.
It started raining harder and I knew I would get drenched if I didn’t end my visit soon. There was so much that I wanted to tell my parents. I wanted to let my mother read my latest children’s book manuscript. When I would call her up, discouraged, at my latest rejection letter, she would tell me to “be patient, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Someday I’ll see your book in a store, and I’ll be proud of you son.” But she never will now. I also want my father to see how well my oldest son, Chris, is doing on his new job. My father has never seen any of my children because he died three years before Chris was born. I need guidance from both of them on what to do with my problem teenage daughter, Stacy. How do I tell Stacy that if she continues down the wrong path, she will be throwing her life away? How do I get this message through to Stacy as they did to me? I want to show both of them how well the two little ones are doing. My father would be especially proud of Sarah and Tim. They both have a great talent for art and drawing. Before my father became a minister, he went to art school and contemplated commercial art as a career. As a little boy, I remember sitting by his easel watching him create wonderful paintings from a nothing but his imagination and a blank canvas. My youngest, Tim, shares my father’s wit and wisdom of the world. Tim likes everyone and everyone likes Tim. He reminds me so much of my dad.
Turning around sadly, my visit drew to a close. I walked slowly up the wet grass towards my car, past countless of unseen graves of people of whose faces I didn’t know, a paused a few times on my journey and glanced back at my parents mortal body’s permanent resting place a few more times. What a great place for their flesh to be spending eternity, a mere three-quarters of a mile from our old house where we spend so many pleasant times.
I got in my car and drove away. When I crossed the Farmington River Bridge, I took a right turn down School Street, some force greater than me controlling my mind at that point. I drove by our old house, the last one where we all lived as a family. I could almost see Scruffy, our little dog, looking out the window. She always sat on the stairs and waited patiently for someone to come home, somehow, I know she is waiting for all of us to return and be with her once again. The tree that my mother planted the first summer we lived in this house was still in the front yard. The memory of that last Christmas we lived here and she insisted everyone decorate the scraggly little tree with blinking lights made me smile. More than twenty years later, it’s still a barren, leafless tree and I wondered if the only life in that scraggly tree is the memories of happier days gone past, and when those memories die the tree will too. I can still hear the cacophony of that last Christmas morning, when my brother Rob and I, even as teenagers, raced each other down the stairs to see what we received for gifts. As brothers we couldn’t be more opposite. Rob the sports nut, got all types of sports paraphernalia that year and I was more into other things and all sorts of books or record albums awaited me under the tree. That was the very first year we didn’t visit any other relatives due to my father’s declining health. I wish now that I knew that a mere four months later, he would be gone forever, I know I wouldn’t have retreated to my room after all the paper and bows were deposited in the trash. I think I would have spent more time with my dad.
The tears began at this moment as I turned around at the end of the dead-end street, then I angrily floored the car, and sped past the house full of old memories. I coaxed even more speed out of the car, hoping the faster I went, the farther the painfully sad memories will be left behind and I’d find some sort of happier experiences around the next corner. But memories never get left behind; no matter if they are happy, sad, painful, embarrassing or otherwise. They just become little chunks of our soul and make us all who we are at this point in time.